I have just returned from a week’s vacation with my family in a great corner of the UK, Gower in South Wales (try the surfing, kite flying, walking out to Worm’s Head, and ice cream at Verdi’s in Mumbles). One of the treats and challenges was lasting a week without a phone line, without the Internet, and most of the time without a mobile phone signal – which resulted in more thinking time.
One of the products of my thinking was a sharper opinion on the topic of insight. I have a feeling that one of the problems we have when discussing insight is a primitive assumption that there is a ‘right’ answer, and that people who have a different answer are ‘wrong’.
By contrast many South Asian cultures share a story related to six blind men who are sent to explore what an elephant is like, and who return with contradictory reports. My personal favourite is the Jain version, such as the version below:
“ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."
"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.
The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not”
Wikipedia lists several different versions of the story, from sources such as Buddhist and Sufi.
As researchers we should aim to progress from recognising our role as reporter, possessing part of the picture, to the role of the wise man, somebody who can synthesise the total picture.